Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Body Trembles: A Question of Torture



 
"Anyone who fights with monsters should take care that he does not in the process become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you."
                                                                               - Friedrich Nietzsche 

Amid the frantic, nonstop media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, another equally horrific news story was, perhaps predictably, overshadowed. A nonpartisan, independent review commissioned by the Constitution Project confirmed what many of us had long known: The United States, in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, deliberately and knowingly engaged in torture.

The nearly 600-page report concludes the U.S., in the aftermath of 9/11, “indisputably” engaged in “the practice of torture,” and that the highest officials within the Bush administration bear responsibility for it according to The New York Times (04/16/13). The authors of the report called the widespread use of torture unprecedented. “[There had never before been] the kind of considered and detailed discussions… directly involving a president and his top advisors on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody,” the report states.

The report’s authors find “no justification” for the use of torture. They add that it “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.”

This is certainly not news for most citizens. Most Americans—whether they approve of such heinous practices or not—at least have some inkling of the government’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But the panel’s report should finally put an end to any remaining debate or uncertainty (most of it generated by the corporate media) that still surrounds the issue.

Regardless, Americans’ general response to these findings has been a collective shrug. Perhaps that is due to a general acceptance (among both conservatives and liberals) of torture as a legitimate interrogation technique in the “war on terror.”

A poll conducted last fall by Professor Amy Zegart of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution finds 41 percent of respondents support the use of torture in questioning designated “enemy combatants”—an increase of 14 points since 2007. An additional 25 percent believe it is acceptable to use nuclear weapons to combat terrorists, while a whopping 69 percent favor killing suspected terrorists outright through targeted assassination programs.

Zegart attributes the steady climb in support for torture (which, curiously has increased, rather than decreased during the Obama years) to popular portrayals in shows like 24 and this year’s Oscar nominated film, Zero Dark Thirty. I believe it has more to do with the simplistic dichotomization and overall dumbing down of our political culture. But pop-culture’s pervasive glorification of sadistic acts of torture by rugged heroes like Jack Bauer likely does not help.

Of course, torture’s widespread public acceptance and support does not change the fact such inhumane treatment is still illegal under dozens of international laws. While comedian Jon Stewart may disagree, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other prominent administration figures, according to the dictates of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (both of which the U.S. is a signatory to), are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They should all be in prison. Yet immediately after taking office, Barack Obama nixed any notion of criminal investigations for illegal acts committed by the members of the Bush administration, preferring to “look forward rather than backward.”

Not only was Obama’s refusal to prosecute Bush and Co. politically cowardly, legalistically speaking it was downright asinine. Law enforcement is, by its very nature, predicated on “looking backward” as that is precisely where the crime has occurred—in the past. Consider the utter absurdity of Jack Abramoff, Adam Lanza or even Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleading to a courtroom, “Your honor, my crimes all occurred in the past. We need to look forward rather than backward so we can heal as a nation.”

Indeed, without justice, victims can never “move forward.” In the words of Saint Augustine, “Charity is no substitute for justice denied.”

 
Instead of a jail cell, George W. Bush received an honorary presidential library. As Ralph Nader observes in a recent article (“He is Comfortable in Bush’s Inferno,” 04/21/2013), the traditional rule of law that once governed our nation—which clearly lays out a formal process of impeaching criminal presidents—no longer seems to apply. “The American people have yet to come to terms with the reality that presidents are above the law,” Nader writes. “Presidents can commit repeated crimes in an outlaw presidency so long as they can invoke, however falsely and vaguely, national security.”

Torture is never justified. Never mind its proven failure to solicit accurate, useful information from its victims. Torture represents the ultimate debasement of one’s humanity. Those who resort to torture succumb to the most savage, sinister urges of human nature.

Torture, Chilean author Ariel Dorfman wrote, “presupposes, it requires, it craves the abrogation of our capacity to imagine others’ suffering, dehumanizing them so much that their pain is not our pain. It demands this of the torturer, placing the victim outside and beyond any form of compassion or empathy, but also demands of everyone else the same distancing, the same numbness…”

But torture is more than just brute, physical harm. As Naomi Klein explains in her superb book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism the torturer’s ultimate goal is to psychically erase the prisoner’s identity and create a new one from scratch. Psychologist and shock-therapy innovator, Ewen Cameron, sadistically used electroshock treatment on his patients in an effort to literally wipe their minds clean—to create a “blank slate” onto which he could start anew.

This is how the totalitarian Party finally “reforms” Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984.

“We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves,” O’ Brien tells Winston during the novel’s grim and lengthy torture sequence. And so they do. By the dystopian novel’s end, the rebel Winston finally pledges his unwavering loyalty to Big Brother.

“Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain,” Orwell wrote of Winston’s torture. “In the face of pain there are no heroes, no heroes, he thought over and over as he writhed on the floor…”

 

 

 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Legalize It!

 


"I loved when Bush [senior] came out and said, 'We are losing the war against drugs.' You know what that implies? There's a war being fought, and the people on drugs are winning it."
                                                                                          - Bill Hicks 

As you may have heard, the Portland Greens are attempting to legalize pot. We are currently collecting signatures to get a city ordinance on the November ballot that, if passed, would legalize adult use of recreational marijuana in Portland. We have until the end of May to collect 1,500 signatures of registered Portland voters, though we ultimately plan to turn in closer to 3,000.

Since we embarked on this petition effort, we have naturally received criticism—most of it insipid and incoherent. Many have questioned the overall imperative of this endeavor, suggesting the issue does not rise to the importance of say, Maine’s hospital debt or the federal deficit.

Mark Usinger writes in regards to a March 5 Portland Press Herald article on the initiative—in that paragon of substantive, articulate insight known as the Comments Section—“Good to know we are paying attention to the ‘important’ issues…”

Clearly, Usinger and his conservative pals do not fully understand the issue.

For starters, marijuana is considerably safer than alcohol. Just consider the destructive hazards frequently associated with alcohol: Rape, violent crime, drunk driving, sexual assault, homicide, and cirrhosis of the liver. But it is hard to find any evidence of anyone ever dying from using too much marijuana. Yet, not only is adult consumption of alcohol legal, it is far more socially acceptable than pot. Indeed, some 60 years after the hippie counterculture popularized the drug, weed still suffers from a taboo stigma.

But the criminalization of marijuana and the overarching “War on Drugs,” have far broader and significant consequences. The war on drugs is now widely considered a colossal failure of money, substance abuse treatment and police resources. Even former president Jimmy Carter has called for an end to the war on drugs.

It is racist for one thing.

The drug war disproportionately targets minorities and people of color. African Americans constitute 37 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession nationwide, even though they only comprise a mere 14 percent of overall drug users, according to statistics from the Drug Police Alliance. Additionally, African Americans can spend as much time in prison for even a minor drug offense as whites would for committing a violent crime. The authors of the DPA’s online content compare such discriminatory treatment to the Jim Crow laws of the 1960s.

They write:

Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system.

Racial disparities aside, there is the broader concern of the overall policy of imprisonment for the nonviolent crime of drug possession. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and in 2011, 757,969 Americans were arrested for marijuana law violation, the DPA reports. Of those arrests, 87 percent were merely for marijuana possession.

And a new report by the DPA reveals the New York City Police Department devoted over one million hours to marijuana arrests from the decade of 2002-2012. The report states, “That is the equivalent of having 31 police officers working eight hours a day, 365 days a year for 11 years, making only marijuana possession arrests.” Does the New York P.D. truly have nothing more important to do with its time than bust people for smoking pot?
The war on drugs is also expensive. The U.S. spends more than $51 billion annually on this failed policy. That amount of money would not pay off the deficit entirely, but it would certainly put a large dent in it.

As a state, Maine is missing out on the potential revenue from a taxed and regulated marijuana industry. To her credit, Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) has introduced a bill in the Maine Legislature that would do just that. As of this writing, Russell’s bill, LD 1229, has 35 co-sponsors. While the Portland Greens support her efforts (our referendum does not, specifically call for marijuana regulation and taxation), we are also not waiting around for Augusta to take action on this issue.
On a recent edition of MPBN’s noontime call-in show, Maine Calling (03/05/13), Russell spoke of the inevitability of legalization, insisting voters will face a statewide referendum in 2016.

Certainly, most Americans agree the time for this issue has come. A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month found a clear majority of Americans (52 percent) support legalizing pot. This marks the first time in “more than four decades of polling on the issue,” the Center noted, “that legalized marijuana had won majority support” (Portland Press Herald, 04/05/13). Furthermore, marijuana legalization is that rare consensus issue that transcends party lines, showing strong bipartisan support among liberals, conservatives and independents. (Libertarian Republicans are especially supportive of the issue given their whole “live free or die” mentality.)

In other words, marijuana legalization is a completely mainstream position. It is the prohibitionists who are the real radicals.

If the ordinance gets on the ballot this fall, I have no doubt it will pass. As an added bonus, a city-wide marijuana referendum in a non-presidential election year is sure to drive youth and first-time voter turnout in an election most voters tend to skip.

If marijuana legalization is good enough for Colorado and Washington, it is good enough for the original “Portlandia.” The Green Party is once again taking the lead to create a sane, sensible drug policy. We are showing, through the power of local, civic involvement, that citizens have the ability to shift thinking and alter laws that are not working for citizens.
 
Look for Portland Greens in downtown Portland and sign the petition. Please understand you must be a registered Portland voter for your signature to be valid. Learn more about the Maine Green Party or the ordinance, hereAnd, as always, share this article widely if you like it.    

 

         

Monday, April 15, 2013

Shredding the Social Safety Net


 

During the Sex Pistols’ final show on January 14, 1978, singer Johnny Rotten, in a last ditch snarl of punk-rock defiance, asked the crowd, tauntingly, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
I could put the same question to supporters of Barack Obama.

President Obama’s proposed budget, which he unveiled this past week, calls for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. This makes Obama the first Democratic president in history to officially propose cuts to the cherished programs—often considered the political apex of liberalism. An editorial headline in the latest issue of The Socialist Worker (04/10/2013) sums it up best: “With friends like this, who needs Republicans?”

While liberals and many congressional Democrats cried out in dismay, Obama’s latest political maneuver should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The president first offered Social Security and Medicare cuts during 2011’s debt negotiations as part of a so-called “Grand Bargain” with House Republicans. A Grand Betrayal is a more accurate term.

Yet most liberals must have missed this story two years ago, because protecting social programs was THE major reason progressives cited for backing Obama’s re-election last fall. “If you care at all about the social safety net,” the argument went, “you will vote for Obama.”

The Portland Phoenix summed up this liberal hyperbole in their endorsement for Obama’s re-election (“The Obama Imperative,” 10/31/2012), which the editors called one of two things “stand[ing] between almost certain economic and social catastrophe.” (The other thing, they claimed, was the Democrats “maintaining—or expanding—their majority in the Senate.”)

Well, turns out we got both those things and we are still headed for catastrophe. But remember: Mitt Romney would have been so much worse…!

As always, it is instructive to observe how the corporate media are spinning Obama’s budget. In fact, many liberal pundits are praising Obama’s “compromise” as a laudable “move to the center,” in an effort to stake out the politically coveted “middle ground.”

This is precisely how NPR’s Cokie Roberts portrayed the budget last week on Morning Edition (04/08/2013). “This is a move towards the middle,” she said, “to getting those independent voters who he [Obama] lost in the last election…by emphasizing deficits which is something they say they care about.”

Over at The Washington Post, meanwhile, Dana Milbank mocked socialist independent Sen. Bernie Sanders for his vocal denouncement of Obama’s plan to cut social services. “For Sanders,” Milbank writes, “…the betrayal stung so badly that he literally took to the streets, joining left-wing activists for a protest…outside the White House” (04/09/13).

By casting Sanders and any other progressives who would dare oppose the president’s budget as part of the “extreme left,” Milbank insinuates this is merely another traditional “left-right” issue—with “centrist moderates” presumably approving of the plan. He writes:

[I]n reality, the progressives’ street protest did Obama a favor. He needs to have the likes of Bernie Sanders against him. It strengthens his hand and helps him negotiate a better deal with Republican leaders, who can now see that liberal backbenchers and interest groups can sometimes be as intransient as conservatives.

Milbank goes on to claim Obama’s proposal “restores his credibility on the budget.”

“His previous budgets, which skirted entitlement cuts, weren’t taken seriously,” he writes. “Now Obama, by publicly defying liberals in his party, looks like the reasonable one…”

But “reasonable” to whom…? Poll after poll shows the majority of Americans—liberals, conservatives and independents alike—strongly support Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. In fact, a poll in Milbank’s own paper last summer (08/21/2012) found a mere 17 percent favor cuts to Medicare, while 21 percent support cutting Social Security. In other words, there is no middle on this issue. It is the president’s budget that is extreme—not those opposing it.

News surrounding Obama’s social services slashing comes as Wall Street hit record highs last week. USA Today, without a hint of irony, marked the occasion with the exclamatory headline (03/29/13), “We’re Feeling Rich Again.” Well, I’m glad someone is. Wish I could say the same, myself. Warren Buffett was right: “It is class warfare, and my class has won.”

Here is what readers need to know about Social Security and other earned income benefits, err… I mean “entitlements.”

Social Security does not contribute one dime to the federal deficit. And contrary to Washington talking points, there is nothing wrong with Social Security’s overall sustainability. (It may need some minor tweaking down the road, but the program is structurally sound.) Medicare, likewise, is projected to remain financially viable until at least 2024 and even then there will still be enough in the fund to pay 87 percent of benefits.

Even if these social programs did add to the deficit (which, again, they don’t)…So what? The deficit is a red herring—a distraction. The notion that, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, we must focus solely on paying down the national debt is idiotic. Paul Krugman is (mostly) right: The U.S. government should be paying more money to stimulate the economy and encourage job creation—not looking to cut benefits Americans have paid into all of their working lives.

The debt is a problem to be certain and we should deal with it at some point. Right now, however, it is a major distraction from our nation’s real dilemma—mass unemployment.

Meanwhile, as working-class, elderly, poor and disabled Americans are being asked to sacrifice these earned income benefits, corporations like General Electric and Pfizer continue to enjoy myriad, extravagant types of corporate welfare in the form of bailouts, subsidies, off-shore accounts and tax-cuts. As I write this, it is Tax Day and G.E. has not paid any income taxes since 2010—possibly even earlier. And G.E. is just one of dozens of other multinational corporations that make record profits but pay virtually no taxes. But you and I still have to.

Liberals’ feigned outrage over Obama’s budget is just that. The president is merely doing what he has, for two years now, said he would do. Chris Hedges is right: The liberal class believes in nothing. And now, it appears it is getting what it paid for.

Guerrilla Press is a radical, non-commercial blog that features original content every week. If you like this post, please share it widely.
      

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

UPDATE


In an update to yesterday's post, The Portland Press Herald reports today the University of Southern Maine announced a new round of budget cuts and faculty layoffs. At least seven full-time faculty members will lose their jobs--and that number is likely an underestimate according to the article.

And where are the majority of faculty cuts taking place, you ask? In the Music Department, of course. Again, I find the comments section indicative of the overall assault on the humanities and fine arts:

"Or take courses that will prepare them [the USM students] for real world jobs," commenter, Steven Scharf writes snidely. Thankfully, Scharf's anti-intellectual remarks are thoroughly rebuked by other commenters. Still, given that his comment received 26 "Likes," I fear Scharf is not alone in this attitude.

Incidentally, I feel compelled to point out that, contrary to popular belief, college professors receive a very modest salary. If the UMaine System is looking to make significant cuts, they should look to those university employees that truly make the most money--those in the athletic departments. The football coach is typically the highest paid individual at any major U.S. university, with the president, or chancellor following close behind.

Yet most colleges are loathe to cut coaching or athletic positions because sports make the school money. Academic studies and publications, generally speaking, do not.

You can read my article on the dumbing down of higher education here.

Photo from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Education or Indoctrination?



 
 
"Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day-shift."   - Bob Dylan 

A 2011 article by the CBS financial report, “Money Watch” compiled a list of the top-25 college majors with the highest unemployment rates. Though rather predictable, the list warrants some consideration in this era of “rethinking” education.

Clinical psychology ranked the highest, with an unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent, followed by “Miscellaneous fine arts” at 16.2 percent. The list can basically be summarized as such: Don’t major in anything related to psychology, the humanities or fine-arts.

A similar article by Terence Loose on Yahoo! enumerates the “Degrees employers hate and love.”

Again, applicants with B.A.s in philosophy, architecture and fine arts will likely be passed over for those with degrees in engineering, computer science, communications and anything related to health care. Of the “impracticality” of a philosophy degree, Loose patronizingly lists some of the hypothetical questions the field encourages students to ask: “What is consciousness? Why should we be ethical? Why can’t I find a job? Oh sorry, that last one is not usually asked in school…”

College students must do their best to avoid these “dead-end degrees” another Yahoo! article—also by Loose—states. “[I]f you’re thinking of going back to school but are unsure about what to study,” he writes, “read on for some degrees that are a dark alley to nowhere and a few more that look like a well-lighted expressway to the career world.” Given his rank anti-intellectualism toward “dead end” (i.e. non-lucrative) humanities studies, I would counter it is Loose who is stuck in the Dark Ages—never mind a “dark alley.”

Look, I am not na├»ve. I understand the importance of securing employment after graduating—particularly given the unfathomable loads of college debt young graduates are now incurring. The weak economy only makes the imperative to pursue a “practical” major all the more urgent. Indeed, this likely accounts for the increased popularity of trade-oriented community colleges in recent years.

But educational self-help lists such as these raise a troubling question about what society considers the purpose of a college education.

Based on these lists—which are ubiquitous on the Internet and business publications—the sole aim of higher education is to make students proficient in a marketable set of skills so they can obtain a high-paying job. Period. Traditional educational ideals like expanding one’s base of knowledge, learning to think critically, becoming civically and politically engaged—these skills will not make anyone rich. Therefore, this logic goes, they are a waste of time.

Colleges, in other words, have become glorified job-training mills. And, rather than fighting this market-oriented shift and standing up for education’s higher ideals, professors, deans and college administrators have sheepishly accepted this utilitarian, college-as-job-placement attitude. Educators who dare to object—professors like Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Warren and the late Howard Zinn—are branded “political,” and risk being denied tenure. Those already tenured simply become pariahs within their own profession, summarily dismissed because they do not work exclusively in academic “theory.”

University presidents—most of whom come from the financial sector—typically have no firsthand experience in education. They are essentially glorified CEOs for the college. Their job is to market and “brand” the school, no differently than Ford does its trucks. This business mindset leads to college administrators increasingly viewing students as “customers” who are merely purchasing a degree. And nakedly for-profit colleges—like Kaplan University and the University of Phoenix—now routinely appear on the NASDAQ and New York Stock Exchange.
Consider this slick, expensive looking advertisement for the University of Maine:

As Communications professor Neil Postman noted: “At its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living.”

As a Socratic scholar, Postman understood the distinction between teaching a skill and teaching one how to think independently. He realized that education is inherently political—even, at times, subversive. Socrates, himself, called education, “the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

I had the fortune of attending Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH where I received my B.A. in Communication and Writing. My liberal-arts courses offered a mix of practical, hands-on learning in the video lab, radio station and college newspaper, along with robust theoretical discussions, with a strong emphasis on critical thinking. My professors not only taught me how to write a news story, but prompted me to contemplate the role of a journalist in a democratic society. Or to ponder the obligation a filmmaker has to use his craft for social good.
In other words, we asked not only the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when,” but also the “how,” and “why.”

My courses and professors at Colby-Sawyer left a lasting impression on me. They awoke within me a deep urge to constantly question, challenge and rebel. They changed my life. And that, I believe, should be the ultimate goal of higher education—to enrich students with the life-altering gift of knowledge.

Most graduates of my major went into marketing or public relations. A few of them landed six-figure jobs at Wall Street. And an alarming number have military husbands deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq.
My former classmates seem to have few, if any, moral qualms about what they do. The fact that they make their living perpetuating the consumer culture industry, making corporations rich or selling fraudulent refinance loans to low-income homeowners, perfectly aware they cannot afford them, does not bother them one bit. For these “systems managers” as writer Chris Hedges calls them, the ends—and the massive paychecks—justify the means. These young people are what Hedges calls, “products of a moral void.”

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world,” Socrates said, “than, being one, to be at odds with myself.”

The irony, of course, is there are no jobs out there. Contrary to what you may have heard on television news, the Great Recession is not over. Market-oriented colleges are basically training students for jobs that do not exist.
 
Case in point, The Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald reported yesterday (04/07/13) that many young people have simply given up looking for work entirely. Indeed, many of my friends—all college graduates—are on food-stamps. Those that do work have part-time, menial jobs that pay little more than minimum wage and do not utilize their college education at all.

Given the economic reality, what better time to cast off the practical vocational course of study and truly follow your intellectual, spiritual or artistic passion. If you are going to remain poor, you may as well be poor doing something you love, right?

“As a teacher, I am not interested in just reproducing class after class of graduates who will get out, become successful, and take their obedient places in the slots that society has prepared for them,” Howard Zinn once said. “What we must do—whether we teach, or write, or make films—is educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.”
 
Guerrilla Press is a radical, non-commercial blog. Look for a new post every week (usually on Monday; sometimes Sunday night). If you like what you read here, feel free to share it with friends. Adam Marletta is the Secretary and former chairman of the Portland Green Independent Party. He is a freelance reporter for The Weekly Sentinel in Kennebunk, Maine.

 

Monday, April 1, 2013

On Bended Knee



 
Ten years after blindly swallowing the lies that got us into Iraq, the corporate news media seem to have learned little. 
I was in my sophomore year of college when the U.S. launched the Iraq War. I remember watching President George W. Bush’s U.N. address where he presented the dubious “evidence” concerning Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction.”

Even then, I was skeptical of the rationales for the invasion. I remember getting into heated debates with fellow students over the war. And I will never forget how even many of the campus liberals bought, hook, line and sinker, the bogus allegations of Iraq’s stockpiles of WMDs—how they too, waved the American flag in favor of war. Many of those same liberals have, in the years since the war’s start, naturally changed their tune. Some will even claim that they too, opposed the war from the start. But I was there. I know better.

In the ten years since the start of the Iraq War—an illegal, unjustified invasion based entirely on lies and deliberate fabrications of evidence—it is frustrating to watch the U.S. media repeat the same uncritical, stenographic reporting that helped launch the war. Indeed, recent news coverage of Iran and Syria—replete with renewed claims of both countries’ alleged nuclear and chemical weapons—suggest the corporate media have learned quite little.

The press’s failure to debunk—or even offer the remotest of skepticism—to the Bush administration’s bogus war rationales has been well documented.

In fact, it was the supposedly “liberal” outlets (The New York Times, MSNBC, CBS News) that campaigned the hardest for the war. (And yet the baseless “liberal media” myth nonetheless persists.)
Even the celebrated Bill Moyers was reprimanded by PBS (that’s right: the “non-commercial,” Public Broadcasting Network) for his critical coverage in the lead-up to the invasion. And MSNBC famously pulled the plug on Phil Donahue’s popular news show when he dared to feature critics of the impending war. As Donahue explained in a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, “I had to have two conservatives for every liberal on the show. I could have [neoconservative Bush consultant] Richard Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich.”

Now the saber-rattling media have turned their sights on Syria and Iran.

Reports of Syria’s government using chemical weapons on rebel fighters in the country’s ongoing civil war could lead to a more pronounced U.S. involvement in the conflict. Speaking in Israel last month, President Obama called the use of chemical weapons a “game changer,” according to The New York Times (03/21/13). With Israel now expressing concerns over Syria’s alleged chemical weapons, some fear a broader American commitment in Syria may be on the horizon.

Anybody else feeling a sense of deja vu, here?

As with Iraq, there is reason to doubt the media’s claims of chemical weapons in Syria—as indicated, perhaps inadvertently, by the NYT story itself. Reporters Mark Landler and Rick Gladstone make clear two paragraphs into the front-page article:

“American officials reiterated that they did not have independent evidence that chemical weapons had been used…”

Any logical person, after reading this sentence would, one imagines, wonder what accounts for the article’s remaining 23 paragraphs. If there is no actual evidence of chemical weapons use, then what is the story, here…? Well, in typical both-sides-are-valid-facts-be-damned, “objective” reporting, the story is that Israeli government officials, despite the complete lack of tangible, verifiable evidence, nonetheless contend Syria possesses chemical weapons.

The report goes on:

“Two senior Israeli officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak, said that Israel was sure that chemicals were used, but did not have details about what type of weapons were used, where they came from, when they were deployed, or by whom.”

Well, that pretty much satisfies the five reporting “W”s. What is most curious about these anonymous “senior Israeli officials,” is their remarks seem to contradict those of Israeli cabinet ministers, Tzipi Livni and Yuval Steinetz. The story notes how both leaders have taken to the airwaves recently, claiming to have “credible evidence” of Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

“Ms. Livni, the new Israeli justice minister, said in an interview with CNN, ‘It’s clear for us here in Israel that it’s [chemical weapons] being used,’ adding, ‘This, I believe, should be on the table in the discussions.’”

This sort of “he-said-she-said” reporting essentially leaves it up to the reader to decide what the truth is. Regardless, it is pretty clear which side is really gunning for a U.S. invasion, here. Israel already launched an air attack on Syria earlier this year. According to Jason Ditz of Antiwar.com (03/17/2013),

Israel’s government is keen to move from the air strikes against Syria to a more full-scale offensive, with the possibility of seizing more Syrian territory as a “buffer zone” being raised, even though Israel already took a buffer zone in 1973 and never gave it back.

It is worth reminding readers of Israel’s role in pressuring the Bush administration to invade Iraq—an often overlooked aspect to the run-up to the war. In fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in September, 2002 titled, “The Case for Toppling Saddam.”

As for the U.S. and Israel’s next potential target, Iran, again the media seems determined to repeat the mistakes of Iraq. Despite what you may have heard on mainstream television news, there is actually zero evidence that Iran is currently developing a nuclear weapon. Last year, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta publicly admitted as much. The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz even conceded the lack of evidence in a 2012 story. The article states: “The intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week… indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb” (01/18/2012). And a 2011 report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offered the same conclusions.

Have the U.S. media learned nothing from the last ten years? Sad to say, but drumming up support for unnecessary, immoral and illegal wars seems to be one of the few things the corporate media can be counted on for.